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What is the Hipster Subculture?

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

In this lesson, we will learn what a hipster is, and the history, ideas, and style of dress of this subculture. We will also explore the criticisms against them, including claims of their inauthenticity.

What Is a Hipster?

Nonconformists. Progressives. Promoters of social change. Intelligent conversationalists. These are all descriptions of the hipster subculture, which is mostly comprised of white 20 to 30-year-olds. They are highly-educated and sociopolitically informed millennials, who grew up in middle to upper class families, and live in urban areas. Many have gone to college and graduated with a degree in the liberal arts.

Hipsters typically listen to indie rock and alternative music, have politically liberal stances, buy organic foods and products, and protest popular, highly-commercialized clothing brands by shopping at thrift stores. Hipsters pride themselves on their up-to-date knowledge of social issues, intelligence, creativity, and appreciation of art, music and food. The hipster subculture has roots all the way back to the 1940s.

History of the Hipster Subculture

The word 'hipster' was actually coined by white Jewish American, Harry Gibson, who was a brilliant pianist in the 1940s jazz, bop, Boogie Woogie, and Dixieland music scenes. He wrote and produced all of his music. His songs were about drugs, adultery and drinking, and were often so controversial and anti-mainstream that they were banned from radio. Many jazz musicians were referred to as 'hep' or 'hepcat,' but Gibson wanted a different nickname. Some started calling him 'hip,' so Gibson started referring to his fans as 'hipsters.'

Harry Gibson, with his hand held high, was the person credited for coining the term
Harry Gibson

'Hipsters' became a term in the 40s for those joined together in protest of the traditional norms and expectations of society. Hipsters yearned for something more than the daily grind of mainstream culture. Old school hipsters in the 40s embraced the fashion and activities of the lower class, including urban blacks. But they were not necessarily poor or lower class; they just emulated this style, so they could give the appearance of apathy to mainstream ideals.

Now there are concentrations of hipsters in urban areas, like New York, Chicago and San Francisco. You may find them in 'hole in the wall' restaurants and shops, as hipsters do not care for big commercial chains.

Hipsters tend to live amongst each other in large urban neighborhoods.
Hipster pointer.

Beliefs and Interests of the Hipster Subculture

It is no stretch to say that a person's beliefs mold their interests and activities. The hipster subculture has some generalized ideologies and values that we will discuss in this section. From those beliefs, we will look at the resulting interest and activities.

  • Conserving the environment

Hipsters are often very aware of global warming, the need for recycling, or conserving water. Bicycling or other non-pollution forms of transportation has become popular amongst this subculture.

  • Anti-materialism

To protest the perceived highly commercialized and materialistic society, hipsters will try to buy from thrift or vintage stores, small and local businesses. They will go for locally grown produce rather than the big business produce suppliers. They'll drink the cheap beer, like Pabst Blue Ribbon, just to make a statement. They will adorn their laws with recycled furniture.

  • Education

Hipsters value education and keeping updated with the news. They usually have a remarkable ability to chat about topics on philosophy, politics and sociology. They may also be more knowledgeable about popular culture topics too, like art and music. Because of their casual style of dress, someone may peg a hipster as lazy and unemployed. The truth is that many have respectable jobs.

  • Natural and healthy

Due to being knowledgable about food, its effects, and where it comes from, hipsters may choose to eat healthfully and/or organically. They may garden or support urban gardening. Some hipsters may have learned about cruelty to animals and the effects of the mass meat industry on the environment, so they may turn to vegetarianism or veganism.

  • Politically and socially liberal

Most hipsters are left-wing when it comes to politics. They tend to fight for the rights and equality of minority groups, such as women or gay people. They will fight for laws that protect the environment or organic farmers. They will support higher taxes to fund social programs to help the underprivileged or disadvantaged.

  • Independent

Hipsters value independence from the masses, uniqueness, creativity, freedom of expression and nonconformity. They feel pride knowing what is cool before the rest of the world knows. They will support non-commercialized Indie bands, hole-in-the wall shops, and non-chain restaurants.

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